Vets express concern over animal sentience pledge
A pledge from the government to enshrine animal sentience in UK law ahead of Brexit has been cautiously welcomed by vets and animal welfare organisations.
On Tuesday (7 August), Defra announced that animal abusers who commit the most serious offenders will face up to five years in jail, compared to the current maximum sentence of six months. The announcement also contained a commitment to work with welfare organisations to ensure that animal sentience is properly recognised in legislation before Britain leaves the EU.
But the BVA, which has been working hard to enshrine animal sentience in UK law, has raised concern that there might not be enough time to introduce the Animal Sentience Bill before Brexit.
BVA president John Fishwick said: “It’s of course encouraging to see that the government is committed to enshrining animal sentience in law before we leave the EU, but with time running out the government must ensure that these words are translated into decisive action.
“Recognising animals as sentient beings sends a strong signal to the global community that the UK continues to be a world leader when it comes to animal welfare. It’s imperative that the government earmarks enough time in an increasingly crowded legislative agenda to bring it into law.”
Defra’s announcement comes in response to a consultation on the draft Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill, which began in December 2017.
The consultation set out proposals to ensure animal sentience is properly reflected in law when Britain leaves the EU. But following a recommendation from the EFRA committee, legislation on sentencing will be brought forward separately so courts have the powers available to them.
In a statement echoing Mr Fishwick’s concerns, RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said:
“We are pleased that Defra has agreed with the RSPCA that the Bills relating to sentencing for animal cruelty and animal sentience should be separate. We welcome the proposed Bill to increase sentencing for animal cruelty and neglect from six months to five years by amending Section 32 of the Animal Welfare Act, as well as the introduction of a separate sentience Bill.
“However, as there are less than eight months to go before we leave the EU, we are concerned that time is running out for the Sentience Bill to be introduced and agreed before Brexit.”